"Fuck," Billy muttered as he noticed the blood coating his pants leg. The light blue denim was nearly soaked in some spots; he was surprised that he hadn’t felt it before. He had assumed that his sleeve would get the worst of it, but apparently he was wrong.
The older woman sitting next him, who appeared to have nothing wrong with her, shot him an angry glare and shifted in her seat. As if his cursing had suddenly made those chairs even more uncomfortable than they already were. The old bat even clutched her bulky purse closer to her annoyingly pink dress.
He ignored her and just lifted his hand a bit higher, his other hand on his elbow. The gash was throbbing.
He had fallen only an hour earlier, although it felt like he had been waiting at the ER for twice that long. He huffed and settled more firmly into his seat.
As he waited, Billy inspected the gauze that the front desk nurse had barely taken two seconds to wrap around his hand. It also was soaked in his blood, shining ruby in the overly-bright lights of the waiting room. The gash in his hand throbbed underneath it. He was tempted to unwrap it and look at the gaping cut in his palm, but he also didn’t want to get anymore blood on his pants.
The nurse had taken his name and told him to sit down, barely even looking up at him.
It wasn't even that crowded in the room anyway, triage should have been like twenty minutes, yet here he was, still waiting for medical treatment with his profusely bleeding hand. It was about 2 in the morning, so the waiting room was more empty than usual. Not that Hawkins, -- the definition of Nowhere -- Indiana, ever had a crowded ER. The size of the town barely warranted having an emergency room.
He was so busy mentally complaining, that he barely noticed someone sit down on the other side of him. He glanced up sharply to see the person smiling at him. It was a guy, some random kid that Billy didn't recognize, but damn, was he beautiful. Maybe barely recognize was better, his smile rung a bell, and gave him sudden flashes of doing a keg stand and scenes from Risky Business. It was more than likely he was damn near drunk the first time he saw the guy and dumbly tried to befriend him or some stupid move like that. Of course, Billy was usually an aggressive drunk, but hey, anything could happen.
His hair was crazy voluminous, but it looked like it had barely any product in it. He was wearing an easy smile that he looked like he put on a hundred times a day, yet somehow it still felt unique to Billy. But he was skinny, too skinny. Even his large robe and pajamas couldn't hide his slight frame.
The boy held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Steve."
Billy couldn't help but watch his mouth move as he spoke.
"Billy", he said, taking the other teen's hand only long enough for a single squeeze before yanking it back. Then he turned back towards the old lady, who was valiantly failing to mind her own business. He noticed Steve out of the corner of his eye, grimacing at his now blood-stained hand, and wiping it on his hopefully hospital-issued robe.
Billy considered sticking his tongue out at her before the kid next to him spoke again.
"What happened to your hand?"
Billy took only a moment to come up with his lie.
"I tripped and fell, cut it on a rock."
Only a half-truth. Technically, he was pushed.
Steve sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth, shaking his head. "Sorry, man, that sounds painful."
Billy just awkwardly nodded to his comment. "I've had worse."
Usually, Billy would have done the stitches himself; they weren't that hard to do if you had a bottle of something sharp and a needle that was slightly sharper. But this time it was on his dominant hand, his left, and stitching with the right always left the scar jagged and the stitching uneven. Not that he really even cared about that, of course he didn't. Chicks dig scars.
Steve let loose a small laugh at that. Then fell silent. They stayed that way for a few moments, giving Billy the chance to really inspect him.
He couldn't be older than 19, he was tall and of course lanky. Steve was wearing a pair of ratty slippers, an off-white fade and several holes in the fabric. Then Billy noticed the hospital bracelet barely hidden by the equally-worn robe sleeve.
"Why are you here, Harrington?"
Steve looked confused for a moment and opened his mouth to say something before glancing down at his wrist with dawning realization. He chuckled and put his hands in his robe pockets.
"I got bored," he explained simply, shrugging.
He put his elbows on the armrests, bringing his hands together through the robe pockets. In the same motion, he extended his legs and leaned his head back onto the chair.
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow. Billy had been told more than once that he had very expressive eyebrows.
But Steve never got the chance the answer, as at that moment, 'Billy Hargrove' was practically screamed by the nurse at the front desk. So he stood up and barely spared a glance for the kid as he said, "Later, Harrington."
Steve chuckled and stood up too, to Billy's surprise, all the while muttering what sounded like “I just got comfortable.”
"I hope not," he said. "That would mean you have to come back to the hospital for some reason."
As Billy reached the front desk, a doctor came around to collect him
"Steve!" The doctor said jovially. "Aren't you supposed to be asleep?"
Steve laughed again ( Jesus, is that all he did? ) and nodded. "Unfortunately."
The doctor made a 'follow me' gesture to both of them and said "I'll let you back in."
He swiped his ID card near the double doors next to the front desk and held the door open for Steve, who was beaten through by Billy. The doctor frowned at him but gestured Steve through after the usurper.
"Dr. Hinely will kill me if he knows I saw you without ordering you back go bed, now get going."
Steve saluted the doctor, the easy grin still on his face, and walked backwards for a few paces.
"Bye, Hargrove," he said as he turned around and walked down the hall, his shuffling gait echoing in the bare halls.
Billy was ushered into a side room before he could say anything back. Not that he would, that is.
"Who the fuck is that kid?" Billy asked the doctor as he sat on the examination table and held his hand out.
The man frowned at his invective, but answered anyway.
"Steve, he's a long-term patient. Everyone here knows him, he's been here forever. Real nice guy, despite everything." The doctor snapped the latex gloves over his wrists and took Billy’s hand in his.
"What's wrong with him?" Billy asked, watching the doctor's hands as he removed the temporary bandage. His heart started racing for some reason, as if he hasn't had or given stitches before.
"It's not my business, I'm not his doctor." He cleared his throat. "What happened here?" He asked, clearly done with talking about Steve.
"I tripped," Billy said without even thinking about it this time.
The doctor glanced up at him with a disbelieving glance and set to work picking out the gravel and bits of dirt. Billy only had to hiss at him a few times when he was too indelicate with the tweezers. The room was completely silent, otherwise.
The doctor put down the tweezers with a sharp clack against the metal tray and picked up the needle to thread it. He took way too long to put the one thread through and Billy was too restless to be able to keep it in much longer. His was going to vibrate out of his skin before this guy actually did anything useful.
“What’s your name, doc?” The silence was deafening at this point, and the clanking of the delicate tools was the wrong kind of sound. He had to say something to fill the silence before he did something he’d regret.
Dr. Perkins set down the needle and picked up a brown bottle.
He was still watching the doctor, but jumped nearly off the table when he poured whatever was in the bottle over the cut.
"Jesus Christ, doc! Warn a guy next time!" Billy held his wrist with his other hand, trying not to hit Perkins.
The burn ravaged his skin, stinging like fuck all. But it did help, the energy bouncing around inside him lessened with the increase in pain. Only a little, though.
He's trying to help , he had to keep reminding himself.
The doctor sewed him up without further incident. Billy watched the whole time as the crescent needle pulled at the skin along his palm. It was mesmerizing, to watch it lift and scrape against the thread as it was pulled taut across the wound.
Perkins cleaned the blood from round the stitches and wrapped it in higher-quality gauze, better wrapped than that slacker nurse.
"Keep it clean, but don't get it wet. Be back here in about a week to get them taken out." The doctor stripped off his gloves and tossed them in the trash. "The front desk will take your insurance."
Billy hopped off the table and opened the door, throwing it open hard enough to hit the opposite wall. Not enough to damage it, though, he had become an expert at slamming doors without damaging anything. He went back out to the front desk and gave his dad's insurance information, to no response from her.
“Did you even get any of that?”
Still fucking nothing.
The nurse didn't even look at him, again, as he spoke.
"You can go now," she said, typing away, after he'd been standing there for like a minute.
“Hey, what's wrong with that Harrington kid?” It didn't hurt to ask?
She just kept typing on her computer.
He scoffed at her and stalked out of the ER, kicking over the umbrella stand as he stormed out. That random old lady was still sitting there, still looking like nothing was wrong with her. The only other person in the waiting room, besides the nurse, was a mother and a small child, who was running around the room tapping the chairs in his own little pattern. His mother was sitting still, her hands over her eyes.
Then all of them went out of his view and he didn't bother to look back at those poor unfortunate souls.
He sucked in the cool night air, happy to be rid of the reek of disinfectants.
Billy pulled out a cigarette with his uninjured hand and stuffed it in between his lips before pulling out his lighter. Using one hand for a few days was definitely going to get irritating.
He leaned against the wall and took a drag.
Trading one chemical for another , he thought. This one was a lot better, however. The drag of the heavy smoke into his lungs was sluggish and familiar. The burn in his throat for this was the same way, low heat and almost comforting. That hospital smell...all it gave to him was the sharp, acrid taste of the dead and the dying at the back of his throat.
He'd been standing there for a few minutes, puffing away, when he heard shuffling footsteps coming from his right. He glanced over to see Steve, his hands still in his robe pockets, walking over.
"Well, well, well, shouldn't we be in bed?" Billy asked, showing off his canines with a wide grin.
Steve didn’t answer, instead he kept walking until he was leaning on the walk next to Billy. His face was colored with what seemed like exhaustion.
"Can I bum one?" he asked.
Billy glances sidelong at him as he takes another drag. He didn't hand him the pack and didn't pass him the one he was already sucking on.
“Tell me why you're here” he glanced back at Steve, who was facing the parking lot now.
“I told you, I got bored.”
Billy grasps the cigarette between his fingers, trying not to crush it but wanting to feel the burn against his fingers oh so badly.
“Gives me the heebie-jeebies, Harrington. A random guy walking around a hospital after dark with no clear reason as to why he's there, then lying about it.” Billy was half joking but also half not. His patience had been tested plenty tonight and he had just decided virtue was no longer important.
“Were you dropped on your head as a child, Hargrove? I told you, I got bored. That's why I'm walking around now.” Billy could hear the dastardly smile in his voice, so different from the perfect grin before. “If you want specific answers, ask specific questions.” Steve sighed and Billy saw him turn back towards the parking lot out of the corner of his eye. “I have lung cancer.”
"I thought lung cancer meant no smoking,” Billy said, nodding moderately.
Steve was silent for a moment. "Aww, are you worried about me?" But when Billy didn't answer, he sighed. “Look man, I just want one cigarette, alright?”
Billy declined to grace that with a response either and instead snubbed out the cigarette against his blood-soaked jeans, which he would have to throw away anyway, and stuffed it behind his ear. As his fingers brushed by his hair, he tried not to worry about what it looked like.
He walked away from the hospital and into the night, having left the Camaro at home. As he reached the bank of grass opposite the hospital, "bye!" rang out from where he was just standing.
Billy swiveled his head slightly to see Steve's back as he shuffled into the hospital.
It was only about an hour before Billy reached his house, but his shoes were soaked by the dew once he got back to Old Cherry.
Luckily, his his dad was already asleep as he slipped open the door as quietly as possible and tiptoed into his room. He shed his pants, jacket, shoes, and shirt, and lay down in the bed, drawing the thin blankets up to his chin. Billy stared at his ceiling for the better part of an hour before drifting off to sleep. For some reason, he dreamt about a pair of big, brown eyes and the great poof of hair above them.